Former Vice President Joe Biden fired back at Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) Wednesday for criticism of Biden's remarks about working constructively with segregationist lawmakers earlier in his career.
Biden defended his comments, saying his point was he was able to get things accomplished even when he didn't like his colleagues' views. Asked about Booker's call for him to apologize, Biden bristled.
"Apologize for what? Cory should apologize," Biden told reporters. "He knows better. There is not a racist bone in my body. I've been involved in civil rights my whole career, period, period, period."
Biden has drawn flak from Booker and other fellow 2020 Democratic presidential candidates after telling a fundraiser a day earlier about how at least there was "civility" in the Senate when he worked with segregationist Democrats like Mississippi Sen. James O. Eastland and Georgia Sen. Herman Talmadge.
BREAKING: @JoeBiden responds to Dem rival criticism on comments re: "some civility" w/segregationist senators: "Apologize for what? @CoryBooker should apologize" @CBSNews (w/@JuliaCherner) pic.twitter.com/zFaEXpSNXM
— Bo Erickson CBS (@BoKnowsNews) June 19, 2019
"I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland," Biden said, according to a pool report. "He never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.’"
Biden added Talmadge was "one of the meanest guys I ever knew … Well, guess what? At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done."
Booker released a statement saying he was disappointed Biden hadn't apologized and that his relationships "with proud segregationists are not the model for how we make America a safer and more inclusive place for black people, and for everyone."
Sen. Kamala Harrris (D., Calif.) said the situation "concerns me deeply. If those men had their way, I wouldn’t be in the United States Senate and on this elevator right now." Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) said she didn't want to criticize other Democrats but nevertheless stated, "it’s never okay to celebrate segregationists."
Biden is atop the 2020 Democratic primary field in the polls, making him a ripe target for attacks by the massive field of candidates trying to break into the top tier. He has a history of controversial remarks around race, including referring to then-Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) in 2007 as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."
In 2006, he touted Delaware being a former "slave state" when asked how he would appeal to southerners in a potential Democratic primary battle.